The way to a tourist's heart is through his stomach - that's the theory behind a new government-sponsored initiative to develop the culinary repertoire of Chile's main tourist sites.

The initiative is a joint effort between the Chilean Gastronomic Association (Achiga) and the Corporation for the Promotion of Production (Corfo), a government body that promotes small/medium-sized businesses.

According to Achiga general manager, Jaqueline Rodriguez, most tourists leave Santiago quickly for Chile's three major attractions: Easter Island, the Torres del Paine National Park and San Pedro de Atacames. Because of this, they do not appreciate Chilean cuisine at the best restaurants, but are left to sample the fare provided by provincial restaurants, which, according to top Chilean chefs, is not as pleasant or as varied as it should be. Accordingly, the tourists leave with a low opinion of Chilean food and wine.

The project's long-term goal is to make the regional selection tantalizing enough for it to be recognized on a national and international level. Over 20 eateries on Easter Island and in Puerto Natales have agreed to support the initiative, but eventually Achiga hopes to develop the project in every region. The initiative is still in the planning stage and should take three years to complete.

Rodriguez says the initiative will not change regional cuisine, but rather improve local fare. It will emphasize traditional recipes and ingredients while expanding menus and improving standards of hygiene, handling, presentation and marketing. According to Achiga's top chefs, the greatest problems at these destinations are poor hygiene standards, limited use of regional products, poor development of recipes and what travel industry sources described as an "appalling" selection of wine.

In the Torres del Paine area, which receives over 25,000 foreign visitors a year, the greatest delicacies are sheep's cheese, game and lamb. On Easter Island, visited by 20,000 a year, the native delicacies include fish, rape rape (a type of small lobster), tuno-ahí (fish cooked on hot rocks on the sea-shore), humu (food cooked in ovens dug into the earth), and fish or meat wrapped in banana leaves. Although the latter three dishes are highly popular, they are not widely available.

By Steve Anderson